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Residents say assault case erodes trust in police

Sunday - 8/24/2014, 8:24am  ET

This Aug. 21, 2014 photo made available by the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office shows Daniel K. Holtzclaw. The 27-year-old Oklahoma City police officer was arrested Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 and is being held in lieu of $5 million bond after being accused of committing a series of sexual assaults against at least six women while on duty. (AP Photo/Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office)

TIM TALLEY
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Residents of a neighborhood where an Oklahoma City officer is accused of sexually assaulting women said Saturday the allegations make them distrust police.

Investigators say Daniel Ken Holtzclaw raped one woman and either fondled others or forced them to expose themselves. They say he made others perform sex acts on him.

The women were all black and between the ages of 34 and 58, but it's not clear if race played a role in the alleged crimes. Police documents show that some were picked up off the street, while others were assaulted after being pulled over for traffic stops.

Formal charges against the police officer could come by Friday.

"I'm already scared of them anyway," 34-year-old Seantah Graham said of police.

She pushed her 1-year-old daughter across a lightly traveled boulevard in the racially mixed, working-class neighborhood of modest brick homes and small, mostly well-maintained yards.

"They've pretty much got power in the palm of their hand. And it's your word against theirs," Graham added.

Another resident, Tammy Bell, 45, said the officer was "taking advantage of his shield" when he allegedly assaulted the women. Bell said she and others in the neighborhood on the city's northeast side had heard rumors about the alleged crimes weeks before Holtzclaw was arrested.

Police were slow to react, she said.

"They didn't want to think it was the police doing all this. They kind of laid it to the side," Bell said.

The investigation began -- and Holtzclaw was immediately placed on leave -- when police said a woman complained in June that Holtzclaw had sexually assaulted her during a traffic stop on a boulevard about two miles north of the state Capitol. The alleged incident prompted police to check other contacts Holtzclaw had with the public since beginning street patrols about 18 months ago.

Officers identified seven victims and eight incidents before accusing Holtzclaw of crimes including rape, sexual battery and indecent exposure.

District Attorney David Prater has said formal charges could be lodged by Friday. Holtzclaw had not been previously disciplined in his three years with the department.

Holtzclaw remained at the Oklahoma County Jail on Saturday in lieu of $5 million bond, according to jail records. No attorney was listed for him.

Holtzclaw joined the police force after graduating with a criminal justice degree from Eastern Michigan University. He was also a standout football player and tried out for the Detroit Lions after he was not taken in the NFL draft. He was cut from the team, though.

Ashfaq Baig, 67, said Holtzclaw used to come into the Checkers Convenience Store where he works looking for a snack or a cold drink but was not a regular customer. The store is located on Oklahoma City's northeast side near the Oklahoma Health Center, a network of hospitals, medical clinics and physicians' offices.

Baig said other customers had told him about rumors that a police officer was abusing residents in the neighborhood. He said Holtzclaw's arrest has eroded people's trust of the police force.

"When you need directions, you go to a police officer. Now, we can't trust anybody," Baig said. "It's very hard."

Jesse Hill, 55, said many women in the neighborhood did not go out at night because of concerns about being assaulted. Hill said she does not think race was a factor in the alleged crimes.

"It's about power now," said Hill, who is black. "When you see a cop, you don't know whether to stop or not. There's no service like there used to be. They don't care."

Holtzclaw was one of four police officers named in a wrongful death lawsuit in January. It was filed by the mother of Cliff Armstrong, an Oklahoma City man who died in police custody.

Armstrong died at a hospital in May 2013 after scuffling with officers. A medical examiner's report said his death was accidental, caused by a methamphetamine overdose, but that the altercation with police may have been a contributing factor.

The case is pending in federal court, but Holtzclaw and the officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing by prosecutors.


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